Here's a phrase we haven't heard much since the late 1990s: "Microsoft helps lift the Dow." But with Microsoft stock surging to its highest point since 2000, some are beginning to wonder whether the long-somnolent stock will finally begin reflecting the firm's other successes.

Microsoft stock hit $38.20 on Monday, a gain of 4.2 percent, helping to trigger a record day for the Dow Jones industrial average, which closed at $15,746.88. That's the highest level for Microsoft stock since July 2000. The firm's stock has risen 18 percent since CEO Steve Ballmer announced his intention to retire back in August.

Microsoft's sudden jump is attributed to two factors. As I reported yesterday in "Report: Microsoft CEO Search Narrowed," Microsoft is allegedly getting close to appointing a new leader. And separately, Nomura analysts said this week that investors should focus on how Microsoft could rebound once it does pick a new CEO. Nomura's Rick Sherlund wrote that Microsoft was "likely" to name Ford CEO Alan Mulally as its next CEO as soon as "next month." But Sherlund also intriguingly notes that Mulally could be "paired" with a senior Microsoft executive, which could help overcome the difficulty of running the complex company.

Ford maintains that Mulally remains committed to the car maker, however. "Nothing has changed," a Ford spokesperson said this week with regard to the firm's CEO.

No matter who assumes the CEO role, questions remain about the direction of the company and whether the board—including high-profile chairman and company cofounder Bill Gates—will force that CEO to continue down the "devices and services" path. Gates has said recently that he intends to work very closely with the next CEO, which suggests he could be increasing his role at the firm after several years of focusing on his philanthropic endeavors.

And then there's Steve Ballmer. The current Microsoft CEO is expected to retain his spot on the Microsoft board as well, and a Gates/Ballmer duo would be tough for any CEO—even someone as credible as Mulally—to resist. Mr. Ballmer expressed his love for Microsoft yet again at an emotional final employee meeting, so it's reasonable to expect him to want to retain a close relationship with the company.